Its the last "counting" event for European Tour Ryder Cup qualification but in reality its last chance saloon for those looking for a wildcard from skipper, Darren Clarke next week. Shane Lowry and perhaps home favourite Soren Kjeldsen will be looking for a win this week to grab a captains pick whereas Martin Kaymer's experience and stature within European golf may be enough already to secure one of those picks. The German tees it up trying to convince all that he is worthy of a pick and keep the pundits guessing right up to "D-Day". For others, much needed Race to Dubai points will be the focus. In all its not a strong field and the head of the market sees Kaymer the man to beat alongside Matt Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan and Shane Lowry. Whilst I believe Clarke will indeed pick his good mate, Lee Westwood, Kaymer and Russell Knox, perhaps the only player in this field that could make him sleep uneasy for a couple of nights next week is Lowry. Shane will be very disappointed to see himself in this situation having won the WGC Bridgestone last season. Having gone so close at Oakmont in June too, the Irishman will be scratching at his beard wondering how he hasn't accumulated enough points. A re-jig of his schedule for next season is most likely. It's a big call for Darren next week as both Lowry and perhaps Thomas Pieters would have fancied their chances of a pick. Russell Knox looks a cert though following recent victory on American soil, and he is based in the US and should get the nod. If Shane Lowry is to have any chance of making Hazeltine he simply must win here this week. So, he's under pressure to do so and he could be in the mood to prove a point. He opted not to play in Rio, citing Zika as an excuse but he will have seen his good friend Padraig Harrington having a ball over there and he may regret the decision not to be an Olympian. Let's hope he doesn't end up regretting not being a Ryder Cup player too. He has all the incentive to win this week and will visit the course for the first time but it's a course that should suit. He did however have chances last week at The Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield GC where a second round 65 set him up for the weekend but didn't capitalize on the opportunity. It remains to be seen if he can take it in Himmerland but it's a win he needs to have any chance. He will play alongside Ryder Cup Vice-Captain (well one of them), Paul Lawrie whilst Pieters will play alongside Clarke himself. Is it Clarke's way of saying "I had you on the shortlist"?
Himmerland GC will host for the third time and based on the previous two installments, it seems those that find the greens in regulation will fare the best. Driving doesn't seem to be vital although the rough is reported to be tough. Its not a links course....but it is. A lot water around the course is complemented by a lot of mounds and is often subject to windy conditions. The forecast shows more is expected this week too.
It's been a frustrating year betting on the Tour this year but I'll continue to pursue the TOP20/TOP10s with an eye on grabbing a winner before the season is out. My shortlist this week shows fifteen players. These are the only players according to my database that have five or more TOP20s on the European Tour this season. Only Kaymer and Sullivan have more TOP20s than local hope, Thorbjorn Olesen and he's a player that I've tried to cash in on a couple of times of late. It's imperative Thor gets a solid opening round under his belt and he has a nice draw playing with last weeks winner, Petersen and Matty Fitzpatrick. Thor ranks nicely for GIR(lies in TOP20 from his sixteen events) and was seventh here two years ago. Having put some hard earned cash on the Dane a few times this summer already I would be mad to not have an interest here in his home event. Hopefully he enjoyed the Olympics and arrives motivated to kick-on and finish the season strongly. His season shows him sitting 29th in the R2D and 71st in the OWGR. He has been working hard on his game and I feel its only a matter of time before he wins again to follow up his last win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last October. From his sixteen events he has posted two TOP5s and a further three TOP10s.
Johan Carlsson will turn 30 years of age on Monday and will be hoping to celebrate with a bold showing here. 2016 has been a very solid year for the Swede with just two missed cuts in Shenzhen and Ireland. He's posted seven TOP20s in his eighteen starts and can continue that solid form by grabbing another here. He played well at the Paul Lawrie Matchplay having won three matches before losing out to compatriot, Alex Noren.
Frenchman, Benjamin Hebert is another with a handful of TOP20s under his belt this year (5/16) and his GIR stats suggest he could be in for another paycheck this week and a chance for another TOP20. At 7.00 to do so, and on the back of a TOP20 here last year, he has to be included on the staking plan to repeat.
Finally, Thomas Aiken cannot be overlooked on a course where GIR stats hold strong. If he can hole some putts he'll sit highly on the leaderboard and could land a TOP10 finish. Hes 6.00 to do so (3.30 for TOP20) and arrives here having played mostly in the US this season. Four sub par rounds at the Wyndham Championship last week saw him finish T-22nd. He can bring that form here and excel on the links type course that he has shown over the years that he can challenge on.
0.50 pts win T. Olesen @ 46.00
3.00 pts TOP20 T. Olesen @ 3.25
2.50 pts TOP20 J. Carlsson @ 4.50
2.00 pts TOP20 B.Hebert @ 7.00
2.00 pts TOP10 T.Aiken @ 6.00
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
As the race for European Ryder Cup places hots up, the European Tour returns to Albatross GC outside Prague for this week's Czech Masters. Its a fairly weak field to be honest where defending champion, Thomas Pieters heads the betting following the dreaded 4th place finish at The Olympics in Rio last Sunday. He will face competition from Ryder Cup hopeful, Andy Sullivan and Ryder Cup veteran, Lee Westwood. But they may find Matty Fitzpatrick the one they have to beat this week. The four though are far too short in the market given their experience. All four though remained on my shortlist as I do expect them to be in contention.
Albatross GC measures just 7500 yards but as it sits over 400m above sea level it will play a bit shorter than it does on paper. From reports, it seems the rough is quite penal this year so accuracy off the tee could be key to posting the required number this week. The course hosted this event the past two years and it seemed to favour the bigger hitters. With wind and rain forecasted this week, the rough being more penal than previous editions, it might pay to stick with the patient type player who can find fairways and greens.
Selection:I'm taking just one selection this week and that's Eddie Pepperell @ 51.00. Eddie doesn't rank too good for driving accuracy and he admits this is the one area of his game that is preventing him from winning at present. Its been a poor season up to now as well for Eddie although he was in contention last time out at the Kings Cup in Thailand. Maybe there is some frustration within his game right now but he has always come across as a person who just gets on with things and as he says in is own blog following the third place finish in Pattaya, "I’ve never had a problem winning and I never will. I won when I was a junior, an amateur, and when I really needed to on the Challenge Tour. With all respect to the tournament I’ve just played, the thought of winning it didn’t make me tremble at the knees or make my bladder leak…"
As Andy Sullivan continues to show the level of consistency to win on tour and his good mate Tyrell Hatton has started to show an equal level of consistency in the bigger tournaments, Eddie may be feeling left behind but he's with a new coach these days who seems to be working well with him. With a shorter course in front of him this week, he may not have the driving woes that seem to be holding him back and if he gets a solid enough start, the carefree attitude that he speaks of now may just be the ticket to getting over the line come tournament Sunday. As mentioned, its a weak field and the leading contenders are close to Eddie and he won't fear them. Eddie was one of the 10 players on my "Ten to win soon list" in 2014 and whilst a number from that list have indeed won (some more than once), Eddie is yet to do so and recent form suggests he's playing well enough to keep putting himself in contention and he's worth a bet here on a course that hes finished 22nd last year and 6th back in 2014.
1.5 pts win E. Pepperell @ 51.00
4.5 pts TOP10 E. Pepperell @ 5.50